Loneliness, it matters more than you think

Team coffee

In 2017, the cost of loneliness to UK employers was estimated at £2.5bn every year. I can’t imagine what that figure has escalated to over the past 18 months. Given the overwhelming evidence that the global pandemic has increased levels of loneliness, with 25% of adults in the UK reporting feelings of loneliness in 2020, it is certain to be much higher than £2.5bn. 

The UK charity, Mind, defines loneliness as ‘the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience. Or you may have lots of social contact or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you.’ Being part of a tribe or community, knowing that you belong to something, helps to avoid feelings of loneliness. 

Loneliness is not something many people are willing to admit to, perhaps not even to themselves. 

There is a lot of money currently spent by businesses, globally, on wellbeing initiatives. Mostly, these are focused on resilience, mental health first aid training, overcoming stress – the list goes on. Many companies also invest in employee assistance programmes (EAP) which allows employees access to counselling, legal and financial advice – all provided by external professionals. Some even offer yoga or mindfulness sessions available during work hours.

I am a huge advocate of a holistic approach to wellbeing. There is no doubt that stress, and anxiety are significant issues employers should and need to combat at work. However, I truly believe that loneliness is a major factor contributing to the increasing levels of mental ill-health. 

For working adults, we spend the majority of our waking hours working. So, the people we work with are important to fulfil our own sense of belonging. Being physically isolated from our family and friends, yet also, our work colleagues.  

Of course, we’ve all had our virtual team quizzes and those drop in coffee chats to ‘tell us how you are’ led by senior execs but for most people these haven’t alleviated the sense of disconnection and loneliness so many have suffered at work. 

It’s no wonder the number one determining factor for engagement at work is whether or not you have a best friend at work according to the global employee engagement gurus, Gallup. Knowing that someone has your back creates a sense of support and connection that engenders loyalty and trust – often leading to higher performance. It’s a critical part of overcoming feelings of loneliness at work.

Creating a sense of belonging, being part of a tribe or community is now even being prescribed by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as a means to reduce loneliness, increase happiness and prevent worsening mental health issues. 

Previous US Surgeon General during the Obama Administration, Vivek Murthy, was interviewed by Dr Rangan Chatterjee on his podcast Feel Better, Live More, about his work on the healing power of human connection. ‘Loneliness causes us to feel threatened and when we’re in this state for a prolonged period of time we start to believe that the reason we’re lonely is because we’re not normal or we’re broken. Loneliness affects our self-esteem over time, we start to believe the reason we’re lonely is because people don’t like us.’

Forming your tribe at work is more important than ever. However, with limited opportunity to get back into IRL (in real life) meetings anytime soon employers need to think differently about providing opportunities for their teams to connect. 

As more companies look for solutions, we have found evidence via our sister company, The Wellbeing Games, of a way to combat loneliness at work. Users of The Wellbeing Games are asked a series of questions both before and after the 10-day event including how connected they feel to their team. 88% of them have said that their connection with their team has improved as a result of taking part in The Wellbeing Games. 

It really is transforming teams through wellbeing with connection at the heart of the wellbeing 5-a-day. Teams are able to support and connect in ways that they haven’t been able to before. Loneliness is not just a result of the global pandemic, we know that way before Covid there was a massive impact of loneliness on the UK economy – it’s not something new, it has become worse and we have the chance now to do something about it.  

If you’re serious about combatting loneliness at work, get in touch bernadette@rosbyconsulting.com

At Rosby, we’re on a mission to improve the experience of work for everyone. In doing so, we believe that people and businesses will thrive – creating happy, healthier workplaces.

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